It is a common assumption that to find traces of ancient secrets, mysteries and conspiracies, you have to look at ancient objects. Nowadays nearly everyone is familiar with the concept of hidden symbolism in Egyptian pyramids, Renaissance paintings and medieval manuscripts, but no one would look at the latest comic issue or a Saturday morning cartoon... But what if everyone is wrong?
This trope refers to storylines in which a modern trademark or a work of popular culture (especially a lighthearted/comical one, like a children's cartoon or a video game) is revealed to contain mystical or conspirological symbolism (it may be either real-life media or a Show Within a Show). For instance, imagine that one of the Scooby-Doo monsters symbolizes a real-life Eldritch Abomination, and the episode dedicated to it shows an actual summoning ritual. Or imagine that the trading cards you used to collect as a child contain clues on finding the Holy Grail.
This trope is especially common in postmodern fiction which tends to reject the boundaries between the "high" and the "low".
- The Illuminatus! trilogy contains lots of this. For instance, Bugs Bunny is revealed to be a symbol of Lovecraft's shoggoths, and "You Wascal Wabbit" was the password of Illuminati agents in Hollywood.
- The Da Vinci Code makes a mention of Grail symbolism hidden within Disney cartoons, from Snow White to the Little Mermaid.
- Foucault's Pendulum, which is a savage deconstruction of conspiracy fiction, has the protagonists inventing a parody conspiracy theory that connects Templars, Rosicrucians, Freemasons, etc., as well as modern-day fiction and cartoons.
- Viktor Pelevin's novels almost entirely consist of this trope. For instance, Generation "П" involves the goddess Ishtar whose corporeal form consists of the totality of advertising images.
- Thomas Pynchon's novels also feature lots of this. For example, The Crying of Lot 49 implied that the villainous character dressed in black from one of the early Porky Pig cartoons was a reference to a real-life secret organization called Trystero.
- Under the Silver Lake lives and breathes this trope: the protagonist, an amateur detective, attempts to solve a mystery by finding clues in pop music played backwards, video game magazines, and images on cereal boxes. Surprisingly, he succeeds in finding the answer... or does he?
- In Sonic.exe, the entity manifesting itself as Sonic in-game is actually an Eldritch Abomination that has a dark cult of its own, specializing in distributing the game copies.
- Homestuck: The cute and adorable Squiddles franchise is an in-universe direct allegory or interpretation of the Horrorterrors from the Furthest Ring.
Live Action TV
- Eerie, Indiana: In the episode The Broken Record, an abusive father blames his son's decision to become a punk on Satanic Panic and this trope, with one record in specific (the one that provides the title, which was found by the kid shortly before changing attitudes) being the symbol of his hatred. He plays it backwards at the climax of the episode in front of many fellow parents and even the sheriff, and it do has a secret message in it, all right: a recording of his abusive tirades to his son.
- In Amazing Stories, the episode Go To The Head Of The Class features a necromantic spell hidden on lyrics of Michael Jackson's Thriller - in order to hear it, you need to play an LP of the song backwards.